For first-year students, the end of the spring semester could mean it is time to go back home and move off campus for the summer. For other students, it may be a time to take advantage of summer classes to catch up or get ahead of their studies. All the while seniors may find themselves at a crossroad. The last few weeks may include looking at the calendar to check off their final days or looking at the clock as their time as a Lumberjack ticks away. As finals week approaches, these students will go through their last reading week and last set of final exams.

Finishing school is normally a celebration, however, seniors might also feel the fear of what comes next in life. Since many students have been in school since starting kindergarten, life beyond textbooks and whiteboards may seem daunting and unknown.

Some of the people who help prepare Lumberjacks for real-world experiences did not experience a straight and smooth path to career success themselves. The professors and educators on campus have often had long journeys from the time of their own graduations that have led them to where they are now.

Once environmental and journalism professor Kira Russo was finished with her undergraduate degree at NAU, she began working at a radio station called KMGN for two years until her family moved to California. Three years after her family moved west, she decided to start graduate school. After grad school, she formed a plan to obtain a Ph.D.

“I originally thought that I was going directly into a Ph.D. program until I found out I had cancer,” Russo said. “I was told if I wanted to have kids, I needed to do that right away, so I did that. That was the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.”

She started a family and found herself back in Flagstaff. She began to teach grammar classes in the School of Communication and later started her Ph.D. program in 2004 at NAU. Russo's cancer diagnosis may have caused a slight delay, but nevertheless, Russo made her way back to her original plan.

Creative media and film professor Robert Reynolds said he was on a bumpy road himself. For almost a decade after completing his undergraduate degree, he found himself in a bad situation.

“It was ten years of debauchery, alcoholism and drug abuse,” Reynolds said. “I then got clean and sober for 30 years. I changed my life, went back to school and did a lot of cool stuff.”

On top of teaching at NAU, Reynolds said he writes and produces movies. He said that people have different journeys in life, regardless of the hard times. Reynolds believes people should educate themselves by reading, writing and moving on from self-destructive habits.

Journalism professor Rachel Tso said she vividly remembers the dwindling hours of being an undergraduate college student. Tso said she waited impatiently until she was on her way into the real world.

“I remember counting down the hours and even the minutes until I could leave that campus,” Tso said. “We were in a small community so there was not much getting out, not many places to go out to.”

Tso said because of the small town environment she was more than ready to graduate when her time came. Having constantly been around the same people, the idea of leaving the college world and going into the real world was something she wanted, as well as to do something meaningful with her life.

A common struggle some students may face is the idea of doing what they love after graduation while also trying to be financially stable.

“As long as you can find a way to get your basic needs met, do what it is that is going to make your life meaningful," Tso said.

Despite different backgrounds and journeys that led these professors to NAU, Russo, Reynolds and Tso echoed similar ideas when it comes to finding the right job and balancing checkbooks.

“Follow your bliss,” Reynolds said. “[Do] that thing that gives you a charge or an adrenaline rush that is fun. In the end, if you can make your job playful, you do not have to work a day in your life.”

Russo said it is important for a student to love what they choose to do after graduating. She said they must keep an open mind and understand that sometimes things don't go exactly as they plan.

“Keep your mind open,” Russo said. “The path isn’t always straight, and a lot of the time we assume that we are supposed to travel from point A to point B — that it is going to be a straight line. What happens is that we pick up a level of experience of things that we love and find out things we don’t love to do, and from there the hope is to continue to pick the things that we like.”

The journey can be smooth and carefree or it can be rough and unforgiving. Regardless, finding out what means the most to a person can make a difference in the path they take. Seeking what brings joy and welcoming challenges are the key components to thriving after graduation.